CENTREFOLD / The old world order: Theories of time and race on display in south London

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Indy Lifestyle Online
This month, two very different strands of TH Huxley's legacy meet up in Peckham. Not many people know this, but if it wasn't for Aldous Huxley's granddad, Thomas, Darwin's theory of natural selection probably would not have got off the ground until the beginning of this century instead of halfway through the last. That would have set back biology, theology and philosophy by 50 years. Darwin was shy and never publicly defended his work against the phalanx of churchmen and scientists ranged against it. This was left to TH Huxley, or 'Darwin's Bulldog', as he became known.

As well as trouncing pompous bishops in public debates, Huxley set up the first working men's colleges, where ordinary people could learn sciences. Trunk-maker William Rossiter studied at one of these, before going on to establish, with Huxley's help, the South London Gallery in 1891.

That year, half a world away, European naturalists were still killing Aboriginal people to order, to take back as exhibits for museums, often to illustrate the principle of natural selection. According to this new theory, appropriated from Huxley and Darwin, Aboriginals were expected to die out. As an 'inferior race' about to become extinct, there was thought to be no harm in speeding up the 'inevitable evolutionary process'.

Now an exhibition of paintings by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Artists is on show at the South London Gallery. The artists are cultural activists, blending the precious vestiges of an artistic culture spanning 40,000 years with images of their last 200 years of dispossession. The purpose-built, glass-roofed gallery provides a perfect space for this intense exhibition. And on the eighth day (right), shows the British Empire descending on Aboriginal land with bleach and pistols.

'True Colours' at the South London Gallery, 65 Peckham Road, SE5

(071-703 6120) to 9 Aug, free.

Educational workshops are available

(Photograph omitted)

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